From swords to plows: IAI seeks to battle coronavirus with UV-light tech

Israel’s largest defense firm develops a system to kill viruses and bacteria on surfaces faster; product prototype developed within a week is now being tested in a hospital

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

The potentially virus-busting UV-light system developed by IAI to fight the coronavirus (Courtesy)
The potentially virus-busting UV-light system developed by IAI to fight the coronavirus (Courtesy)

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the nation’s largest aerospace and defense firm, has jumped into the fray to help tackle the coronavirus that is killing tens of thousands of people globally and causing havoc to economies.

The company, which makes unmanned aerial systems, radars and communication satellites among other products, has put its labs and engineers — who generally work on defense systems — to work at finding ways to fight the pandemic.

Since setting out the challenge a week ago, the company has already come up with its first prototype product, and it is now being tested in Israel’s Assaf Harofeh hospital, newly renamed Shamir Medical Center, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

The product is a machine that uses ultraviolet (UV) light to kill viruses and bacteria on hospital surfaces. This will allow medical centers to speed up the sterilization process of their rooms and ready them for treatment of new patients. Today this sterilization is done with chemicals, such as chlorine or alcohol.

To come up with the idea, company employees met with doctors and specialists in the field. Research has shown that strong UV light can kill bacteria and virus, said Avi, from the aviation division of the firm, in a phone interview with The Times of Israel. His surname was undisclosed for security purposes.

The engineering tests performed in the IAI labs showed the system — a large tripod fitted with fluorescent-looking lights — was successful in destroying germs and viruses in an range of two meters. The technology is now being tested in a hospital.

To ensure a room is completely sterile, the tripod would have to be turned and moved around to make sure all of its spaces are covered by the light, Avi explained.

If the hospital pilot is successful and a regulatory green light is received, he said, the firm would be able to create the systems in a matter of weeks, he said.

Avi said the firm is in touch with the Health Ministry and regulators regarding the hospital trial. “These days they are easing up on permits, which normally take months or years,” he said.

Even if the IAI system is shown to destroy just 80% of the virus, it could be used together with chemicals to complete the disinfection process faster, he added.

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